Raised from the deadFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
This year, just in time for today's feast of St. Jean Baptiste, there is a renewed religious spirit here in Quebec.
The Archdiocese of Quebec has just finished hosting a very successful International Eucharistic Congress, the closing Mass of which was celebrated on the Plains of Abraham for a crowd of some 50,000 who listened to Pope Benedict XVI via video-link from Rome. With over 10,000 delegates from all over the world, the week-long congress was a manifestation of Quebec’s Catholic culture not seen here in more than a few generations.
Today the holiday is called La Fête Nationale, an even more banal title, as improbable as that would seem, than our "Canada Day." Just as the old "Dominion Day" spoke of our shared Canadian history, the fact that Quebec’s national holiday was that of her patron saint, St. Jean Baptiste, reflected that the durability of French culture in Quebec and Canada was related in large part to its fervent Catholic faith.
It has been oft-remarked -- and oft-celebrated, to be sure -- that Quebec’s faith seems to be a thing of the past, an obstacle to development and progress best left behind without nostalgia. The result has been the spectacular dismantling -- sociologically speaking, overnight -- of what was once perhaps the most Catholic corner of the world. For many observant Catholics in Quebec, the rapid and aggressive secularization of the culture has been a cause of discouragement and even despair. For the Church, the pain of souls turning away from Christ was compounded by an internal crisis of confusion about the faith itself. Was there room in Quebec for a confident Catholic voice?
That confusion and fear was left behind last week. There is nothing more fundamental to the Catholic faith than the Eucharist -- the belief that Jesus Christ is truly present in the sacrament under the appearance of bread and wine. During the congress, Catholics from around the world joined the Church in Quebec to proclaim that faith. And on Thursday evening, when 20,000 pilgrims filled the streets of the Old City in a Eucharistic procession, the Church in Quebec proclaimed her faith with serenity and confidence, unapologetic about taking her place in the culture that she did so much to shape.
The exuberance of the congress, especially with young people from across Quebec and Canada as key participants, hinted that something new was on the horizon in Quebec. On Friday evening, when 12 men were ordained priests at the hockey coliseum, the 12,000-strong congregation broke the constraints of normal liturgical practice, applauding and cheering as if, well, they were at a hockey game.
"Twelve new priests -- like the twelve apostles -- for a new foundation for the Church in Quebec!" said Father Stéphane Pouliot, who had invited me to the ordination. He is himself a young, vibrant priest from south of Quebec City.
"I feel as if I was raised from the dead," said Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec, demonstrating that it was not only the young who were deeply affected by the week-long congress. "I believe that we have reached a turning point in the history of the Catholic Church in Quebec."
Cardinal Ouellet is not customarily a man of extravagant rhetoric, so his words indicate that something important is afoot. The quadrennial Eucharistic congresses are planned years in advance, so when it was announced in 2004 in Guadalajara, Mexico, that Quebec would be the next host, no one could have known that Quebec society was about to begin a contentious conversation about its culture and identity.
The intervention last fall by Cardinal Ouellet at the Bouchard-Taylor Commission argued that to understand Quebec in entirely secular terms would be a rupture with the past, and a betrayal of Quebec’s history. The events here of the past week underscored that point vividly, that Quebec’s heritage must contribute to Quebec’s identity in the present. It was an open question, though, whether the Church in Quebec was too weak to make that contribution. The answer given here is that the enervation of the past is past, and that there are new sources of energy.In the history of cultures and nations it is usually only possible to identify a turning point well after the fact. And so it will not be possible to know what the impact of Quebec 2008 will have on the future. But for those who were here last week, it seemed that a corner was turned. And for that, this year will mark a very happy St. Jean Baptiste indeed.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Raised from the dead." National Post, (Canada) June 24, 2008.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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